On-page SEO

SEO and Old Content

Is deleting old content good for organic search rankings? Google’s SearchLiason, Danny Sullivan, recently addressed that question on his Twitter account, stating old content is not harmful and possibly helpful:

Are you deleting content from your site because you somehow believe Google doesn’t like “old” content? That’s not a thing! Our guidance doesn’t encourage this. Older content can still be helpful, too.

He linked the tweet to a Google Search Central post, “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content.”

Screenshot of the tweet from Danny Sullivan

Older content can be helpful, says Google’s SearchLiason. Click image to enlarge.

Sullivan’s tweet likely responded to published reports that CNET, the news and reviews site, had deleted thousands of old articles to rank better in Google. CNET staff said the company focused on search engine optimization when deciding which posts to remove, evaluating “the age and length of the story, traffic to the article, and how frequently Google crawls the page.”

A lengthy discussion on Twitter and elsewhere followed with answers from Sullivan and John Mueller, Google’s Senior Search Analyst. Here’s a recap.

SEO and Old Content

1. The publish date is not by itself a ranking factor.

The age of an article is not the only factor when deciding to delete it. Other metrics include traffic, bounce rates, time-on-page, and the topic. Publishers should apply editorial judgment when paring content, recognizing the challenge it poses for huge sites such as CNET.

John Mueller confirmed on Mastodon the value of dated content — such as historical citations, archival research, technology tracking, and more:

– Content age should not be the sole deciding factor. (Just like traffic shouldn’t be the sole factor.)
– News content (original reporting) is different from random content sites, imo. There’s usually value in old news content.
– just deleting things blindly doesn’t improve your SEO.

You can use various factors to make a list of *potentially* unhelpful content – age, traffic, bounce, time on site, etc. — it’s a starting point, but don’t use it as a deciding factor alone. Few people read your “About us” page, and it probably hasn’t changed in years, but I wouldn’t recommend deleting it, because it has unique value for your site, and for the web.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of stuff that has no unique value anymore, and by all means, kondo it up.

2. Deleting select content can help, but not because it’s old.

In the comments following his tweet, Sullivan stated that deleting outdated content on a “massive site” can make it easier for Google to crawl other pages:

The [dated, ilrelevant] page itself isn’t likely to rank well. Removing it might mean if you have a massive site that we’re better able to crawl other content on the site.

Hence Google does have a crawl budget. Too many pages on a site could mean Google doesn’t crawl all of it. Removing articles could help organic rankings, but not because of the publish date.

CNET’s decision to delete old posts therefore appears valid for two reasons:

  • It forces Google to crawl more important pages of the site.
  • Internal link equity won’t be wasted on outdated pages.

Similarly, deleting pages of permanently out-of-stock products can help Google crawl other items, again for huge sites. It could also send more link equity to pages for available products.

3. Old content doesn’t make an entire site old.

A common misconception among search optimizers is deleting old content means Google views the site as up-to-date and fresher. Sullivan claims otherwise, tweeting:

We do have systems that take freshness into account, as we document here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/appearance/ranking-systems-guide#freshness

But that [is] largely about very short-term freshness, not “I dropped all these articles after 2014 or whatever, so I’m fresher!”

Delete or Not?

Old content is challenging for search engine optimization. Dated posts often have historical significance. Conversely, those posts could prevent Google from crawling and assigning value to newer info.

Keep humans in mind when cleaning up a site. Does an old post remain useful for readers?

To be sure, regular content pruning and updating from manual editorial reviews can improve rankings. Google’s “helpful content” guidelines confirm as much,  stating, “… removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”

For huge sites such as CNET, consider other tools instead of mass-deleting based on age. One tactic is moving old articles to a subdomain, keeping the main domain easier to crawl.

Regardless, age alone is not a negative ranking signal for Google.

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty
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